Law review article highlights MMSD’s racial disparities in literacy

Scott Girard:

A recently published law review article has some strong words for the Madison Metropolitan School District’s literacy achievement gap and how that connects with Dane County’s disparate incarceration rates for black people.

“Where Dane County’s largest public school district has largely failed to produce literate Black fourth graders for more than a decade, it follows that the same racial disparity exists in the county’s correctional institutions,” University of Wisconsin Law School student Mckenna Kohlenberg wrote. “In 2011, a Black minor from Dane County was 25 times more likely than a White minor to be incarcerated.”

Statistics like that one aren’t news to those paying attention to racial disparities in recent years. But the “Booked but Can’t Read” article published in the NYU Review of Law & Social Change coins the term “illiteracy-to-incarceration,” a more nuanced version of the “school-to-prison pipeline” phrasing that has been discussed for decades.

Kohlenberg said in an interview she purposely wanted to create a direct connection to illiteracy, instead of the discipline focus that the “school-to-prison pipeline” often connotes.

“I wanted to call attention to how this process of funneling kids into the criminal system doesn’t always start with school discipline,” Kohlenberg said. “I wanted to make very clear that early on, as early as the fourth grade, lacking literacy plays a huge role in this pipeline.”

MMSD spokesman Tim LeMonds wrote in an email that the district had not had time to review the article thoroughly enough to comment.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration